Anna Cook never imagined she would become the student graduation speaker for Carroll Community College.
When she began her time at the college, she didn't even think she would become involved on campus. But now she has graduated after having spent a year as the Student Government Organization's president.
"I learned a lot and I grew a lot as a person at Carroll, but that never would have happened if I hadn't stepped out of my comfort zone," Cook said.
Cook is one of approximately 200 graduates who walked across the stage Wednesday during Carroll Community College's 20th Commencement Ceremony at McDaniel College.
College President Faye Pappalardo said she is pleased with the quality and caliber of this year's graduates. She is also impressed with the number of scholarships earned by graduates to transfer institutions.
"This class has been a wonderful group of students who have worked hard, have participated in many activities such as service-learning, and have made contributions to our community even before graduation," she said.
On Wednesday, Pappalardo told the students that graduation day signifies a new beginning for them.
"You, the class of 2013, are without a doubt a special class because this year, Carroll Community College celebrates its 20th anniversary as an independent community college," she said.
Graduation speaker Judy Coen, former dean, department chair and faculty member at Carroll Community College, was the commencement speaker. She told the students that as they enter their professional lives, she hopes they find as much happiness in their work as she did.
"I look back and wouldn't change a thing," she said. "I encourage you all to follow your hearts and make an investment that will fulfill you for the rest of your professional life."
Coen discussed the history of the college and how it has become an institution of higher learning with a great reputation, she said.
"What is our success? It's you, our students, who go on to successful academic careers or the workplace," she said.
Cook, of Taneytown, is the eighth out of 10 children in her family, all of whom have been homeschooled. She followed in the footsteps of all her older siblings when she went to Carroll Community. On Wednesday, she received an Associate Degree in Business Administration.
The 19-year-old decided to submit her application to be involved with Student Government Organization the day it was due during her first semester at the college. While that was a spur of the moment decision, serving as SGO's treasurer and then as president ended up shaping much of her college career.
"There's a real family atmosphere and everyone cares and wants you to succeed," she said.
As president of the organization, Cook started a weekly initiative to inform the rest of campus about SGO. Members of the club would talk to other students about SGO and its role on campus. The group also now has a Facebook page and has made other advertisements.
"It was really good for me to just kind of bring everyone together and bring change on campus," she said.
Now Cook plans to go on to pursue culinary studies at Frederick Community College and hopes to own a bakery one day.
Cook grew a lot as a leader and is honored that she was chosen to be the graduation speaker. She hopes people will look at attending Carroll as a beneficial experience that will teach them a lot.
Another graduate, John Jayman, said he was surprised that he won the President's Academic Excellence Award. The award's criteria include completing a minimum of 45 credit hours at Carroll, earning a 4.0 Grade Point Average and demonstrating outstanding participation in extracurricular activities and service.
Jayman found that Carroll gave him the perfect opportunity to figure out what he wanted to pursue and to explore his interests while paying affordable tuition, he said. He graduated with an Associate Degree in General Studies and is headed to University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in the fall where he plans to major in chemistry.
"Carroll Community was a great experience where I was able to identify my strengths and establish educational goals for the future," he said.
At Carroll, Jayman was a Hill Scholar; served as a tutor in the academic center; was a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics club member; and participated in intramural sports.
"I'm excited to go to UMBC, but at the same time I will definitely remember my experiences at Carroll and how Carroll really helped me to grow," he said.
He said he is honored to receive the award, which he believes recognizes the hard work he put in to his college experience.
In her graduation speech, Cook said during her experiences at Carroll she has learned the importance of serving others. Things that the graduates have accomplished at Carroll will be with them for the rest of their lives, she said.
She explained her graduation Wednesday as being both a happy and sad day.
"With those experiences and challenges that you have faced, you have something that no one else does," Cook said. "Don't chose a path because it's easy, but strive to challenge yourself."